THERE may be wrinkles to be smoothed and a financial contribution to be negotiated, but it looks like Grosvenor's long-gestating Ambleside development will be built following a suspenseful council vote Monday.
West Vancouver council voted 4-2 in favour of pushing Grosvenor's proposal for the 1300-block of Marine Drive to the development consideration process. The vote solidifies the basic height and density of the proposal, leaving only architectural refinements such as each building's relative distinctness to be determined. The project's financing was not up for discussion at Monday's meeting.
The proposal consists of two mid-rise towers peaking at seven and six storeys, respectively. Joined by a covered galleria, the tiered buildings will contain approximately 100 units.
With the possibility of a deadlock looming, Coun. Bill Soprovich waited until the last minute to back Mayor Michael Smith and Couns. Trish Panz and Michael Lewis in supporting the proposal.
"If we do not move ahead with something viable in this community, Park Royal will suck us dry forever," he said.
Having previously backed a failed motion to lower the heights of the buildings, Soprovich ultimately decided Grosvenor's project would contribute to West Vancouver's gateway.
"I'll start out by telling you I've been eating a lot of Tums lately," he said.
The project has created a schism across the community, according to Coun. Nora Gambioli, who called on council to build more of a consensus.
"For me, 50/50 isn't good enough," she said.
District staff are working on an independent market study related to the Grosvenor project but had not completed it by Monday's meeting. The lack of that report made it difficult to support the project for Gambioli.
"I've enjoyed being on council right up until just about this minute. I felt like I was coming to the guillotine tonight," she said.
The project was recently deliberated by the district's design review committee, but whether or not that was a fulsome debate is unclear, according to Gambioli
"My impression was that DRC was never asked directly, until the last minute of the meeting, about height and density," she said.
The DRC is content with the project's height and density, according to director of planning, lands and permits Bob Sokol.
"The basic fundamentals of the project are good, and in general the issues of height and massing are resolved," he said, drawing both murmurs of discontent and applause from the capacity crowd.
Once completed, the buildings will be very expensive and routinely empty, according to Coun. Craig Cameron.
"This is not going to provide diversity of housing options," he said, stating that the price range of $2 million to $5 million will exclude most local buyers.
"I have very serious concerns that they're not going to be occupied, that a lot of owners are going to be people who have several residences in several countries, and we're going to get them here for part of the year if at all. So how does that revitalize Ambleside?" he asked.
The 1300-block is one of three special sites in Ambleside where buildings can exceed four storeys if approved by council.
"Our (official community plan) has three holes. We call them special sites," Cameron said. "Previous councils have left this mess for present and future councils to deal with."
The OCP has left council in a purely reactive role, according to Cameron.
"We're served dinner, and we don't even know what we've ordered," he said.
The precedent-setting project is too massive, said Cameron, asking how it would fit into Ambleside.
"The ironic thing is, we don't have a future vision for Ambleside," he said.
With Grosvenor as Ambleside's sole suitor and the district's budget an even balance of assets and liabilities, Mayor Michael Smith was happy to vote in favour of the project.
"There is no pot of gold that we can use to pay for the very things that we want as a community. The one thing we do have is surplus lands, one of which is the 1300block."
Several merchants championed the project,
including a storeowner who produced a petition bearing the signatures of more than two-dozen Ambleside business owners.
"We really do need to support our business community. It's essential," said Coun. Trish Panz.
Once completed, the project will provide a neighbourhood gathering place, according to Panz.
"We desperately need a better public realm in Ambleside," she said.
"We would be seriously remiss if we prevented it from moving forward," agreed Coun. Michael Lewis.
While the building has been criticized as being out of step with the neighbourhood's village character, Lewis said the opposite is true.
"I think it will be a landmark building," he said. "It's been textured by the architect to fit and feel like Ambleside."
Speaking outside council chambers, Grosvenor Americas senior vice-president
James Patillo said he was happy with the outcome.
"You're always mindful that these are tough decisions for council," he said, adding that the process remains ongoing.
Asked if he was ever close to taking the project off the table, Patillo said it was a matter of demonstrating public support.
"We've got a project that's economically viable as it is," he said. "We do have support for this project and so we were always optimistic council would see it that way and they did."
Droves of West Vancouverites ventured out of the evening sunshine and into the humidity of council chambers, fanning themselves with agendas as nearly 50 residents voiced their opinions in the four-hour meeting.
The majority of speakers supported the project.
"This development, if built, will be the best thing to happen to Ambleside in forever," said Ambleside business owner Glynda Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald likened the "mind boggling" opposition to the detractors of the Village at Park Royal
"I know for a fact that the 'just say no-ers', now, when in need of a can of paint or a knob for their cupboard, are grateful that they don't have to make their way to Home Hardware behind Cap Mall," she said. "Maybe instead of throwing a proverbial rock at change, it's time to embrace change."
Christine Ballantine took issue with Mayor Michael Smith's recent jab at West Vancouverites who affix the No More Than Four sticker to their clothing.
Other project opponents questioned the project's scale.
"It provides a block of windows in just a huge building which will look like a parked cruiseship," said Linda Kowalski.
Supporters characterized the project as a "game changer" and an "amazing opportunity" to give a facelift to a "dreary, dismal" section of the district.
The project is expected to return to council July 22.
Coun. Mary-Ann Booth recused herself from the discussion.
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